Deregulation Bill

Written evidence submitted by the Law Society (DB 10)

Deregulation Bill, Clauses 61-64

The Law Society of England and Wales is the independent professional body, established for solicitors in 1825, that works globally to support and represent its 166,000 members, promoting the highest professional standards and the rule of law.

The evidence contained in this briefing has been agreed by several of the Society’s Specialist Committees, which are made up of senior and specialist lawyers whose practice is relevant in this field.

Clauses 61 - 64: Exercise of regulatory functions

1. The Society is concerned that the new duty to have regard to economic growth is likely to be applied to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) which is the independent regulatory arm of the approved regulator, the Law Society.

2. The Legal Services Act 2007 transformed the regulation of legal services by:

· setting up an oversight regulator, the Legal Services Board;

· requiring the independence of frontline regulators from representative bodies and;

· placing eight regulatory objectives on the LSB and the approved regulators it oversees.

3. As the regulatory arm of the Law Society, the SRA is already subject to those eight regulatory objectives. Some of these are directly relevant to growth, including the duties to support the rule of law, to promote competition in the provision of legal services and to encourage an independent, strong, diverse and effective legal profession. The Society believes that balancing the existing eight objectives, many of which create a tension with other objectives and are not prioritised within the Act, is already difficulty for the legal sector regulators.

4. While the Society supports the need to promote economic growth, it doubts that the imposition of this objective will make any significant difference to the work of legal regulators, and that it is likely to be lost in the discussion of other eight objectives. Indeed, the additional objective may be self-defeating by adding to the debate and delaying reform.

5. The existence of an independent legal profession, and public confidence in it, is fundamental to freedom under the law. The Legal Services Act 2007 was designed to ensure that the independence of the approved regulators, such as the Law Society, was maintained while providing oversight in the form of the Legal Services Board.

6. The Law Society believes the Government should not seek to by-pass this by, in effect, monitoring regulators and, inevitably, seeking to second-guess what may be finely-balanced decisions. It is inappropriate for the Government to have this power in respect of the legal profession to directly impose an additional objective.

7. The Law Society's recommendation: Applying the economic growth duty to legal regulators is inappropriate and duplicates regulatory objectives already in existence. If a duty to promote economic growth is to be applied, it should be to the Law Society (as the corporate body and the approved regulator under the Legal Services Act1997) rather than the SRA.

March 2014

Prepared 12th March 2014